By no measure is he a stranger to controversy. Even so, his latest on-camera screed against the media must’ve raised eyebrows from “Gross” Islet to Baron’s Drive in Soufriere, where residents a long time ago ceased to be affected by the drivel that proceedeth from the mouths of politicians—unelectable politicians in particular.
On Tuesday our alleged justice minister was attempting a serpentine slide into his duty-free vehicle following another predictable senate windstorm when, seemingly out of nowhere, a swarm of reporters with TV cameras descended upon him in Constitution Park.
When one reporter asked him to comment on the discombobulating stories about the closure of the country’s only crime lab—two weeks after he promised to do just that!—La Corbiniere sought to draw the journalist’s attention away from the facility to his own sleep-chasing chimeras.
He said the media had for some time treated him “uncharitably,” an interesting notion, considering his several libel threats hurled at reporters doing their jobs. As for the STAR, the famously litigious lawyer claimed the paper had singled him out for vitriolic assaults, and only since IMPACS and his announced zero tolerance of corruption. One of the difficulties he had faced, he said, “is that when I have dealt with those issues the media have been extremely uncharitable and tried to couch it in a lot of other ways.”
The impression he tried to create was that this newspaper had vengefully criticized his performance as justice minister for all the wrong reasons. But “this minister will not give up on corruption once it raises its head in our institutions.”
Imagine that! The irreducible truth is that this newspaper had persistently reported the RSLPF was in trouble with the US State Department for alleged gross violations of human rights. It was the STAR that had broken the story about the US government’s decision to suspend all assistance to the police until the allegations against some of its members had been properly resolved.
The record shows the justice minister had declared the STAR stories untrue and without foundation—until the prime minister himself proved him a liar on the evening of 20 August 2013, when he publicly acknowledged it was of little value to make a statement to confirm what was “already in the public domain without providing some indication of how the government plans to resolve the issues which confront us.”
And what were “the issues?” According to the prime minister, quoting from the State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011: “There were twelve potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad hoc task force within the police department.”
The issue had “pre-occupied the United States” and had “led to the actions taken against the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.”
As for the actions taken, the United States had “disallowed several officers from proceeding on further training or participating in programs organized or funded by the United States . . .” The prime minister said he had been advised that the United States had gone “one step further and suspended all assistance to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.”
The local police were “no longer welcome to participate in any program of training in Regional Security Services funded or organized by the United States.” Precisely as earlier revealed by the STAR and dismissed by the justice minister.
Added the prime minister: “The speculation about these so-called extra-judicial killings must be brought to an end. It is in the interest of all concerned that the full facts of what occurred be disclosed, not only to satisfy the United States but importantly, to clear those officers whose reputations are at risk. In the final analysis the people of Saint Lucia must have confidence in those who are charged with law enforcement.”
Finally the prime minister announced his decision to have the matter investigated by CARICOM’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security. IMPACS would be invited “to evaluate all available evidence and determine whether or not these matters warrant further action.”
On 8 March 2015, the prime minister again addressed the “unhappy episode” that he also described as “a distressing issue to confront.” IMPACS had submitted its report, he told the nation, but he would not reveal its content until the DPP had read it and advised the government what to do next.
Three months later there has been no further official word on the issue, save from the justice minister this week—and which had absolutely nothing to do with the status of the IMPACS report.
In any event, where is the evidence supportive of the justice minister’s childish gripe that this newspaper had targeted him for unfair criticism because he had tried to rid the force of corruption via IMPACS? For all I know, he had nothing to do with the investigation. My criticism was inspired by his bold-faced denials of the truth I had written in advance of the probe, not to mention his continuing demonstrations of incompetence.
Also on Tuesday, La Corbiniere blurted out a garbled response to questions relating to the closure of the crime lab. Indeed, he repeated himself: the lab was shut down and its regular staff sent home so as to facilitate “an audit.” Meanwhile, this newspaper last week had reported on a breakdown in security that had resulted in the disappearance of evidence (cocaine) atypically stored at the lab. On that, the justice minister offered not a word, not a word, not a word. Not even his customary denial of STAR revelations.
Philip La Corbiniere lacks what it takes to be an effective manager of our justice system: the understaffed and poorly funded DPP’s office, on which much police action depends, is next to dysfunctional. Some 500 homicides are unaccounted for—and that does not include the several murder charges waiting over five years to be disposed of by the court.
A mistrial has been declared in one particular case no less than six times. Over and over the DPP has publicly complained about problems at her office that have resulted in justice delayed. Four bailiffs serve the whole country, two for the north, two for the south.
They are expected, unarmed and on their own to confront famously violent individuals. They are also required to use their own transport, for which they are paid just over a dollar a mile. They are often forced at gunpoint to flee for their lives. Bailiffs often must transport witnesses aboard their vehicles. Two have been shot at!
Often summonses remain unserved for months, for various reasons ignored by the justice ministry. Small wonder that some say it would be easier for a particular local MP to persuade the US to renew his visa than for a complaining bailiff to attract the justice minister’s attention.
On Tuesday evening the ambushed La Corbiniere said on camera that his office never planned to deport or repatriate the stranded Lambirds students. Earlier he had broken them into three categories: one that could leave the island voluntarily; another that would be repatriated in any event, while the final group would be permitted to stay on as witnesses in the Lambirds case.
Meanwhile other officials were sending the students different signals, leaving them with the impression that they had only two choices: to leave courtesy the IOM or face deportation. Thank goodness for the DPP’s clarification of the situation on Wednesday.
The police force rightly feels betrayed, on several grounds. Members wonder who will next be required to take leave in the middle of an investigation. Muted now are the voices so often heard in the past, before IMPACS and Lambirds and AIMU.
La Corbiniere, in case you’re wondering, dear reader, has responsibility for the crime lab, the DPP’s office, our police force, to say nothing of national security. Is it any wonder the US State Department continues its negative attitude toward the police? The latest word is that if IMPACS remains buried much longer more US visas could be in danger—including that of the justice minister.